miwahni (miwahni) wrote,

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Gough Whitlam died today.

Parliament was suspended, as a mark of respect to the passing of a great man.

Australia was a very different place in the 1960s and early 1970s. Our young men were fighting in Vietnam, not only regular army but also conscripts, chosen by ballot on their 19th birthdays. We had no national health care system to speak of, voting age was 21, and a university education cost a bomb. Divorce involved a trip to court where fault had to be established, and our White Australia policy restricted immigration from non-European citizens.

Then in 1972 this started to change, with the election of a Labor Party government led by Gough Whitlam. He abolished conscription and brought our soldiers home, lowered the voting age, introduced no-fault divorce, scrapped the White Australia policy and university fees. And most importantly, he gave us Medibank - our version of the NHS - and introduced compulsory superannuation.

These last two were scrapped by the next Liberal government, only to be re-introduced by Labor ten years later. University remained free until 1989 when a fee system was slowly brought back in (and current legislation pending would have the effect of increasing fees dramatically).

In addition, the Labor government of 1972 - 1975 helped dissipate the "cultural cringe" that made us feel that "local" was inferior, whether it was tv programs, cars, art or wine, and caused so many of our best and brightest to leave the country - people like Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James etc who left Australia for the UK, seeking validation rather than diffidence.

So I feel a little bit saddened by Gough's passing, at age 98 today.

Looking for a photo and while there are better ones of him, I loved this one taken on the night of his election to the prime ministership; the pure exaltation he shows; the little smirk on wife Margaret's face; and the lairy shirt in the background!
 photo goughelection_zps0a356d30.jpg
Tags: politics

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